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What is Joint Custody in Colorado?

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In Colorado, the terms joint custody (shared custody) and sole custody are no longer used. In place of these terms, the courts now use the term parental responsibility, which can be joint or primary. Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR) is the legal process designed to determine parenting rights and responsibilities with the traditional notions of child custody and visitation. 

Parental responsibilities can ultimately be broken down into two components: parenting time (physical custody) and decision making (legal custody). 

What Is Physical Custody? 

Physical custody in Colorado determines parenting time, which used to simply be known as custody. Parenting time encompasses where the child(ren) will live, day-to-day visitation schedules, vacation and holiday schedules, and pick-up and drop-off arrangements. 

When allocating parenting time, most judges start with the presumption that parents should be co-equal. Judges generally don’t approach the issue with a bias to favor one parent over another. However, it is also recognized that equal co-parenting is not always appropriate or in the best interests of a child. 

Typically, equal parenting time can result in one of two schedules: 

  • 2-5-5-2 Split: Under a 2-5-5-2 split (also known as a 2-2-3 split,) one parent will be awarded physical custody for every Monday and Tuesday night while the other parent will be awarded custody for every Wednesday and Thursday night. Weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,) are then alternated so that each parent gets every other weekend. 
  • Week-On, Week-Off: Week-on, week off schedules (also known as 7-7 schedules,) are a very simple division of time. Parents alternate weeks so that each parent gets physical custody every other week.  This type of schedule reduces the number of exchanges that occur throughout the year, but it’s typically only used for older children who can handle being away from one parent for an entire week. 

2-5-5-2 splits and week-on, week-off schedules are the most popular types of custody schedules, but other arrangements can be made. By and large, 2-5-5-2 splits are the most common schedules used to split physical custody where an equal parenting time schedule is in the best interests of a child. 

When it comes to vacations and holidays, parents usually share the more important holidays. The breakdown is typically as follows: 

  • Child birthdays: These can be alternated, but on schedules like a 2-5-5-2 split, there’s usually only a day or two between the birth date and when each parent has custody. This normally allows each parent to celebrate birthdays without needing to carve out a specific schedule. 
  • Parent birthdays: Parents occasionally have custody of their children for their own birthdays, but time often isn’t specifically carved out for this. 
  • Spring break: Parents will alternate spring breaks with their children. 
  • Mother’s Day/Father’s Day: Physical custody will be given to the applicable parent respectively. 
  • Summer: Each parent tends to get a week or two of uninterrupted time with their children.
  • Fall break: Not every school provides a fall break, but if one exists, the break tends to be alternated between parents. 
  • Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is normally alternated between parents. 
  • Winter break/Christmas: Winter break is often a combination of alternating and sharing. Sometimes parents can alternate sharing the first and second half of the break.
  • Minor holidays (4th of July, Halloween, Labor Day, etc.): Minor holidays can also be alternated or rotated as requested by the parents 

Of course, the breakdowns above for both holidays and normal custody schedules apply to parents who live near each other, and where this schedule is deemed to be in the best interests of a child by the court. If parents live more than 3 or 4 hours apart, the breakdown of physical custody will be altered to account for the distance. 

What Is Legal Custody? 

While physical custody pertains to parenting time, legal custody deals with decision making. Decision making addresses how important decisions are made. Important decisions that would fall under the umbrella of decision making would include educational choices, religion, medical treatment, extracurricular activities, and more. Just like physical custody, legal custody can be joint or given solely to one parent. 

How Parental Responsibilities are Decided in Colorado

In an ideal world, you and your spouse would be able to work together to decide how parental responsibilities are divided. If the divorce is contentious and you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, then a judge will determine parenting time and decision making regarding your child(ren) after a trial. 

With respect to physical custody (parenting time), the courts will weigh the following factors when determining how parenting time is allocated to suit the best interest of the child: 

  • The expressed wishes of the child’s parents; 
  • The wishes of the child (if the child is mature enough to express reasoned and independent preferences);
  • The child’s adjustment to his/her home, school, and community;
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his/her parents, siblings, and any other person that may significantly affect the child’s best interest;
  • Whether or not the involvement of parties with the child reflects a system of mutual support, time commitment, and values;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved (a disability alone is not a basis to deny or restrict parenting time on);
  • The ability of all individuals to encourage the sharing of affection, love, and contact between the child and the other party;
  • The physical proximity of parties to each other ;
  • Whether or not one of the parties has committed child abuse or neglect under section 18-6-401, C.R.S., or under the law of any state;
  • Whether or not one of the parties has committed spousal abuse as defined in subsection (4) of section 14-10-124, C.R.S.;
  • The ability of each party to place the needs of the child above their own.

Factors guiding legal custody decisions are very similar. When determining how major decisions are made, the courts will evaluate the following factors: 

  • The ability of the parties to cooperate and make decisions jointly;
  • Whether or not the involvement of the parties with the child reflects a system of mutual support, time commitment, and values;
  • Whether or not an allocation of mutual decision making responsibility would promote more frequent and continuing contact between the child and each party;
  • Whether or not one of the parties has committed child abuse or neglect under section 18-6-401, C.R.S., or under the law of any state;
  • Whether or not one of the parties has committed spousal abuse as defined in subsection (4) of section 14-10-124, C.R.S.

Having a judge determine parental responsibilities is never the best option, but if you need a court to make decisions, then you’ll want to make sure you have the best possible legal help you can obtain to guide you through the process. 

Burnham Law is Here to Help

Legal guidance from experienced child custody lawyers can go a long way in ensuring the best possible outcome for a custody dispute. The attorneys at Burnham Law can help you learn more about child custody, your rights, and your legal options.

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